Ex-Packwood staffer tells about sexual harassment Girls of St. Paul's receive a warning BALTIMORE COUNTY

January 12, 1993|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

Paige Wagers was personally introduced to the world of sexual harassment when she was 21 and a new employee on Capitol Hill

But learning about sexual harassment when you're already a victim, she says, is too late.

Ms. Wagers, 39, is one of 10 former members of Sen. Bob Packwood's staff who have charged the Oregon Republican senator with making unwanted sexual advances.

The Baltimore native spoke to about 250 students yesterday at her alma mater, St. Paul's School for Girls, and warned the young women about the experiences they're likely to face in the workplace. Those were experiences for which, she says, she was totally unprepared.

In 1976, Ms. Wagers told the girls, she was first attacked by Senator Packwood, and "I didn't know how to react to it. I knew I was going to say no, but I didn't know exactly how I was going to do that."

She said co-workers and friends urged her to keep quiet about the incident, warning that her reputation and job were likely to suffer if she didn't.

"That was pretty much the reaction across the board," she said. "I assumed that saying 'no,' it would never happen again, so I continued to work for him. . . . I did tell people at the time, which now is the only thing that will make my story credible."

Ms. Wagers was working for the Department of Labor five years later when, she said, Senator Packwood lured her into his office and attacked her a second time.

"Again, I was caught totally out of the water," she said. "It was very difficult to get out of the office not only with my pride, but with my clothes on."

The women's allegations are currently being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee. A hearing is to follow the investigation.

Senator Packwood initially denied any improprieties, but now blames his conduct on alcohol abuse.

Ms. Wagers urged students to think about the realities of sexual harassment and prepare themselves for the possibility of becoming victims.

"You'll be much better off it you know how to handle the situation when it arises," she said.

"This is civil rights -- it's not just a women's issue, it's an issue for everyone to care about."

The students said they had not known very much about sexual harassment.

"I had always thought that sexual harassment was very rare -- especially in sacred places like the Senate, where people are supposed to be examples," said Heather Spector, an 18-year-old senior at St. Paul's.

Bessie Oster, a 16-year-old junior, said she thinks St. Paul's prepares its female population for the realities of the working world.

Girls are encouraged to excel, she said.

"It makes us stronger."

Ms. Wagers said she hoped to leave the students with a sense of awareness, adding that "probably 100 percent" of them would face some sort of sexual harassment during their careers.

"If nothing else, by talking about it, I'm getting people to think about it," she said.

"No matter how embarrassing it proves to be, I'm proud of myself -- for the way I acted then, and now."

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